I have often wondered if a hero and a role model can be one and the same or are they mutually exclusive. This thought came to my mind a short while ago when former President Nelson Mandela was first admitted to hospital. Many people were saying, ‘Oh, he is my hero’ but I did not hear anyone say, ‘Oh, he is my role model.’ It made me wonder why.
It is possible that the term ‘role model’ is not used to a great extent by the younger generation or maybe, they meant it to be that he is both hero and role model or it could be that it is considered as one and the same and the listener is expected to understand it as such.
I did some research and some of the answers were quite interesting. One person wrote on a website, “a role model is someone who sets a good example, a hero is someone who has done something to help or impress you, though, a person would want to be both’.” This definition starts by saying they are mutually exclusive but finishes by suggesting a person can be both at one time. Possibly, persons such as Mother Teresa and Bill Gates, fall into the second category. Heroic because they risked their future on stepping into the unknown and yet both have done wonderful humanitarian work, so are role models too.
Another definition I liked was, “a hero is some one that shows up at the right time; a role model is some one that always show up.”)
On the same website someone wrote : “A hero is somebody seen as such by a group of people..not just by one person. I think it’s usually a group that labels one individual as a hero (there are exceptions, of course). Or should I say, you become a hero to a group of people…rather than to one person. Like that pilot that landed on the Hudson. Or a firefighter who saves life after life…” and “a role model is more of a personal thing..one person is a role model for another person. Kinda like a one-on-one. A mentor, a parent, someone who’s educating you, showing you how to be a good human being.”
From these personal opinions it would seem that heroes and role models are one thing to some and another to others but what they all seem to agree upon is that a role model is more of a personal opinion; someone who directly affects your personal life. I personally would mostly agree with this. A role model is easier to emulate if it is someone whom you know because he/she is someone whose way of life you would know better. That does not mean that your role model cannot also be a hero but a hero can be someone of whom you know nothing except what has shown in their public life.
For me, a role model is someone who has the morals, ethics and values in life that you admire and you would like your life to follow the same pattern. For this to be the case he/she must be someone with whom you have contact on a regular basis and may even be able to discuss the values of life with him/her. Just this past week there was a newspaper headline, “My Dad is my hero.” In this instance it was a 4 year old who was so proud of her Dad who had fought off some attackers in their home. At that moment he was huge and fantastic in her eyes. He could also be her role model as she grows up.
Why I wanted to write about this is because some people see others as heroes and want to be like them without having any idea what their daily lives, morals, values and ethics are. South Africa has leaders in all spheres who, unfortunately, are not showing the people of the country a proper and ethical way to live. We need real role models, for young people in particular, so that our country can return to a true state of morality and be an example (role model) to the world. Yes, we can have and do need heroes to remind us that we all can do great things but they need also to be people who live clean and moral lives.
What do you think?